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What is conservatism? -- And other political labels

German guy

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In America, it looks like political labels such as "conservative" and "liberal" are colloquially used almost synonymously to "supporter of one of the two large parties". In Europe, that's trickier, as in most countries, there are more than two political parties and different political traditions, so the labels vary.

I've sometimes seen Americans equating "conservative" with "in favor of small government" and "liberal" with "big government". Of course that's so simplistic it's not even true in American political reality (not even when you reduce your understanding of size of government to taxes and social spending). But even moreso, it's confusing, because small government historically, traditionally, is the most striking element of classically liberal philosophy (which today is often referred to as "libertarian" to avoid confusion with the colloquial use of the label "liberal" synonymous to "left").

Some went so far drawing the conclusion, based on this fallacious reasoning, that Nazism was a "leftist" or "socialist" ideology. But when you look at German conservatism, it becomes pretty obvious that Nazism was much more rooted in German right-wing and conservative thought, than in (Marxist) socialism (though Nazism did indeed incorporate a few elements from socialism).

But then, for different reasons, it looks like the line between true conservatism and classical liberalism/libertarianism is indeed blurred in America, perhaps for various reasons, not least that all these streams are united in the same, the Republican Party.

So what is conservative?

In this textbook -- Konservativismus (Elemente der Politik) eBook: Sven-Uwe Schmitz: Amazon.de: Bücher -- I found an interesting outline of conservative philosophy, contrasted to the major two other streams, liberalism and socialism:

- Conservatives view property as positive, but it isn't an end in itself, but responsibility is attached to it; in has to be used in unity with law tradition and ethics. Whileas non-conservatives either see property as an end in itself (liberals) or are skeptic of it (socialists).

- Basis for conservative views is the individual, but the individual is bound by superior obligations and duties, whileas liberals set the individual absolute and socialists emphasize the collective. Conservatives emphasize positive freedom ("freedom to do something") rather than negative freedom ("freedom from coercion or state") as liberals do.

- A given moral order has priority for conservatives, it can be religious, naturally grown or historically tested, whileas both liberals and socialists believe the way things are says nothing about how they are supposed to be, hence they feel justified changing it according to their views.

- Conservatives see the state as organically grown community, ordered by authority and oriented towards the common good. For liberals and socialists, the state is a means to an end, and its scope either encompassing (socialists) or minimal (liberals).

(to be continued...)
 

German guy

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I had the chance to learn a lot about the views of a German hardcore conservative, who's of the kind you hardly find anymore after 1945. He supported monarchic order, as only traditional monarchies are organically grown communities with an organically grown authority; just like you are born into a family with parents whose authority you have to respect, the tributary is born under his monarch, which is the naturally grown order. Constitutionalism in liberal tradition is "tyranny of money", and money flows will destroy morals, natural order and natural hierachic authority. He loathes both liberal and socialist materialism, because emphasis should be on the spirit rather than matter.

The liberal political order of republicanism is nothing but a degenerate form of government by people with money, which occurs with natural necessity when strong, noble monarchic orders degrade from "culture" into "civilization", but they won't persist, because "tyranny of money" will eventually destroy itself, so republics eventually become empires (he got these ideas from arch-conservative German political philosopher Oswald Spengler and his "Downfall of the Occident").

Democracy in particular is a degenerate idea in his eyes, because it gives the dumbest, weakest and least moral people a maximum of power; the strong, smart and good only are suited to truly rule, in the best interest of the community, and the ideal form to do that is traditional monarchy.

Individualism is a sign of utmost decadence, as the individual is not supposed to be free; it has duties to meet: An individual must accept the role fate has provided him with. When fate has determined you are a son, you have to meet the duties towards your parents. When you are a daughter, you have to meet the duties towards your family and husband. When you are a husband, you have to accept the role taking care for wife and children. And all of them have to meet the duties towards their nation. And so on ...

The individual is bound by duties; first towards your family, then towards your nation, and finally, towards your race/culture. You cannot just do what you want, if that conflicts with these duties, because that would be immoral, and you would deny your nature, by ignoring the role fate has assigned to you. When individuals set their own wishes absolute, that means social decay, and socities will decompose and fall because of it.

Thought along these lines was the mainstream on the German right-wing prior to 1945. That's old-school German conservatism.
Considering that, it becomes pretty obvious how Nazism was actually "German conservatism on steroids" rather than related to Marxist socialism.

The closest thing to that kind of conservatism you find in America, perhaps are religious conservatives. But it's tricky, as America never was a monarchy; the most traditional tradition America has, is actually "liberal" from the very start: The Constitution and the ideas of the Founding Fathers -- revolutionary liberals in their days. So when conservatives defend "a historically tested order", it's a liberal order in case of America. Huge difference to Germany.

What do you think? What makes "conservative" philosophy in America?
 

cpwill

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There are sharp distinctions between American and European conservatism that you are highlighting here. Namely, what American conservatives are seeking to "Conserve" is generally much of Classic Liberalism. Today's American Liberals are not Classic Liberals, but rather Progressives, who took the name Liberal in the first part of the 20th Century, because the Wilson Administration had made the title "Progressive" rather toxic (similarly, many liberals today have been seeking to reclaim the title "progressive" after "liberal" has become a problematic label).

European Conservatism is not bound to defend Classic Liberal advances; Classic Liberalism was a reaction to (and formed in opposition to) much of European Conservatism. It is founded instead (as you aptly describe) in Throne and Crown / Blood and Soil - it's authoritarian.

The closest that American Conservatives come to this is Burkeanism. We concur with European Conservatives that individuals have duties that should override their personal preferences, but place that in the context of a Classic Liberal governance. For example: "The Federal Government shouldn't be responsible for raising my child because I am responsible for raising my child." The "little platoons" of society are important, critical building blocks to which we belong - society matters. In American conservatism, this is the common basis for the rejection of Randianism / Atomism, which is what your friend is (I think poorly) ascribing to the term "Individualism".

That all being said, Fascism was the marrying of socialism to nationalism - the Third Way between the International Socialists and the National Conservatives. It's why their flag was red, it's why they recruited heavily among socialists, it's why they adopted corporatism, it's why they called themselves "National Socialists". To deny its relation to Marx makes little more sense than to deny its relation to Bismark.
 

German guy

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There are sharp distinctions between American and European conservatism that you are highlighting here. Namely, what American conservatives are seeking to "Conserve" is generally much of Classic Liberalism. Today's American Liberals are not Classic Liberals, but rather Progressives, who took the name Liberal in the first part of the 20th Century, because the Wilson Administration had made the title "Progressive" rather toxic (similarly, many liberals today have been seeking to reclaim the title "progressive" after "liberal" has become a problematic label).

European Conservatism is not bound to defend Classic Liberal advances; Classic Liberalism was a reaction to (and formed in opposition to) much of European Conservatism. It is founded instead (as you aptly describe) in Throne and Crown / Blood and Soil - it's authoritarian.

The closest that American Conservatives come to this is Burkeanism. We concur with European Conservatives that individuals have duties that should override their personal preferences, but place that in the context of a Classic Liberal governance. For example: "The Federal Government shouldn't be responsible for raising my child because I am responsible for raising my child." The "little platoons" of society are important, critical building blocks to which we belong - society matters. In American conservatism, this is the common basis for the rejection of Randianism / Atomism, which is what your friend is (I think poorly) ascribing to the term "Individualism".

That all being said, Fascism was the marrying of socialism to nationalism - the Third Way between the International Socialists and the National Conservatives. It's why their flag was red, it's why they recruited heavily among socialists, it's why they adopted corporatism, it's why they called themselves "National Socialists". To deny its relation to Marx makes little more sense than to deny its relation to Bismark.

Thanks for this interesting explanation.

Just one little correction: The Nazi flag being red (next to black and white) is not because of a connection to Marxism, but because those three colors were the colors conservative German flag (The Kaiserreich 1871-1918 used it, and before then, Prussia did). ;)

Today's black-red-gold goes back to the liberal movement and its failed revolution of 1848, which was struck down by the monarchs. The Weimar Republic picked it up to emphasize liberal/democratic values, so of course the Nazis had to undo this change, as they hated "the Weimar system".
 

Harry Guerrilla

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When you analyze any formal political philosophy, you're often going to find elements of both conservative and liberal values present.
I wouldn't necessarily characterize European Monarchism/Noblism, as an equivalent to American Conservatism.
Do they share some similarities, absolutely.
Adherence to prior cultural institutions of social order (i.e. religion, class, etc.).

That though, is not necessarily enough to say they're the same.
American Conservatism is a kind of blend, like American Liberalism/Progressivism.
 

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Yes... and Nazism was certainly a blend, too. Like Cpwill said, a "Third Way" between Marxism and liberalism.

But it was certainly not more "left" or "socialist", than it was right-wing (in the German context). In fact, Nazism's most basic premise, that people are not equal and that accordingly, different people deserve different "rights" and duties, is a view it shared with German conservatism -- whileas both liberals and socialists emphasized equality of humans, liberals stressed the equality in front of the law, while socialists went even further and demanded material equality.

This harsh divide is especially obvious when looking at ideas such as nationalism (many socialists were even anti-nationalist internationalists and/or pacifists) and Social Darwinism and racism, which had been a staple ideas among the German right-wing for quite a while before the Nazis even existed.

It's also not true that Nazism mostly found followers among workers -- in fact, politically organized workers were the group most resistant against Nazi recruitment, right behind politically organized Catholics.

You can see that when you look at the elections results in Weimar elections: The Communist Party remained more or less stable, even grew, and didn't seem to lose any significant number of voters to the Nazis, neither did the Catholic Centrist Party. Even the more moderate Social Democrats were still party #2 by 1932.

The parties that absolutely crumbled were the "moderate" liberal parties, namely the right-wing liberal People's Party (DVP) and especially the progressive-liberal Democratic Party (DDP). Those were the parties preferred by the "small-bourgeois" anti-Marxist middle class. And this middle class is exactly the group that was the strongest group within the Nazi fellowship.

The monarchist conservatives were even totally absorbed by the Nazis; when Hitler came to power in 1933, the monarchist party DNVP was even the Nazis' junior coalition partner, and both parties had been engaging in street fights united together for a few years.
 

Harry Guerrilla

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Something else I just thought of.
There is a definite inner division of these ideologies.
I think and I may be wrong, but there is class conservatism/liberalism and their others (religious/ethnic conservatism, working class liberalism, etc.)
They lobby and often support each other, even when their goals are often incompatible.
 

joG

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I had the chance to learn a lot about the views of a German hardcore conservative, who's of the kind you hardly find anymore after 1945. He supported monarchic order, as only traditional monarchies are organically grown communities with an organically grown authority; just like you are born into a family with parents whose authority you have to respect, the tributary is born under his monarch, which is the naturally grown order. Constitutionalism in liberal tradition is "tyranny of money", and money flows will destroy morals, natural order and natural hierachic authority. He loathes both liberal and socialist materialism, because emphasis should be on the spirit rather than matter.

The liberal political order of republicanism is nothing but a degenerate form of government by people with money, which occurs with natural necessity when strong, noble monarchic orders degrade from "culture" into "civilization", but they won't persist, because "tyranny of money" will eventually destroy itself, so republics eventually become empires (he got these ideas from arch-conservative German political philosopher Oswald Spengler and his "Downfall of the Occident").

Democracy in particular is a degenerate idea in his eyes, because it gives the dumbest, weakest and least moral people a maximum of power; the strong, smart and good only are suited to truly rule, in the best interest of the community, and the ideal form to do that is traditional monarchy.

Individualism is a sign of utmost decadence, as the individual is not supposed to be free; it has duties to meet: An individual must accept the role fate has provided him with. When fate has determined you are a son, you have to meet the duties towards your parents. When you are a daughter, you have to meet the duties towards your family and husband. When you are a husband, you have to accept the role taking care for wife and children. And all of them have to meet the duties towards their nation. And so on ...

The individual is bound by duties; first towards your family, then towards your nation, and finally, towards your race/culture. You cannot just do what you want, if that conflicts with these duties, because that would be immoral, and you would deny your nature, by ignoring the role fate has assigned to you. When individuals set their own wishes absolute, that means social decay, and socities will decompose and fall because of it.

Thought along these lines was the mainstream on the German right-wing prior to 1945. That's old-school German conservatism.
Considering that, it becomes pretty obvious how Nazism was actually "German conservatism on steroids" rather than related to Marxist socialism.

The closest thing to that kind of conservatism you find in America, perhaps are religious conservatives. But it's tricky, as America never was a monarchy; the most traditional tradition America has, is actually "liberal" from the very start: The Constitution and the ideas of the Founding Fathers -- revolutionary liberals in their days. So when conservatives defend "a historically tested order", it's a liberal order in case of America. Huge difference to Germany.

What do you think? What makes "conservative" philosophy in America?

Nice essay.
As for the terms, they go through mutations of meaning, I think. The Founders were progressive revolutionaries, which is almost the opposite of what would normally be understood to be conservative. On the other hand, many their beliefs and approved behavior in a person today would be considered ultra conservative or reactionary.
 
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German guy

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Something else I just thought of.
There is a definite inner division of these ideologies.
I think and I may be wrong, but there is class conservatism/liberalism and their others (religious/ethnic conservatism, working class liberalism, etc.)
They lobby and often support each other, even when their goals are often incompatible.

Yes. I find this very obvious in case of American religious conservatives and libertarian "conservatives". It's hard to understand how Christians with their emphasis on mercy and a -- uniquely religious -- idea of social fairness can find common ground with hardcore libertarians who think the market will solve all material problems and are liberal on social issues.

In Germany (and some other European countries), Christian conservatism even resulted in the unique political philosophy of Christian Democracy, which was almost socialist on economic questions at time because of Christian views (even Germany's CDU still demanded "Christian Socialism" in 1945/46), but Christian-conservative on social issues.

Even when different types of "conservatives" may share certain ideas, their ideas of a good model to conserve may be very different, even conflicting.
 

Harry Guerrilla

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Yes... and Nazism was certainly a blend, too. Like Cpwill said, a "Third Way" between Marxism and liberalism.

But it was certainly not more "left" or "socialist", than it was right-wing (in the German context). In fact, Nazism's most basic premise, that people are not equal and that accordingly, different people deserve different "rights" and duties, is a view it shared with German conservatism -- whileas both liberals and socialists emphasized equality of humans, liberals stressed the equality in front of the law, while socialists went even further and demanded material equality.

This harsh divide is especially obvious when looking at ideas such as nationalism (many socialists were even anti-nationalist internationalists and/or pacifists) and Social Darwinism and racism, which had been a staple ideas among the German right-wing for quite a while before the Nazis even existed.

It's also not true that Nazism mostly found followers among workers -- in fact, politically organized workers were the group most resistant against Nazi recruitment, right behind politically organized Catholics.

You can see that when you look at the elections results in Weimar elections: The Communist Party remained more or less stable, even grew, and didn't seem to lose any significant number of voters to the Nazis, neither did the Catholic Centrist Party. Even the more moderate Social Democrats were still party #2 by 1932.

The parties that absolutely crumbled were the "moderate" liberal parties, namely the right-wing liberal People's Party (DVP) and especially the progressive-liberal Democratic Party (DDP). Those were the parties preferred by the "small-bourgeois" anti-Marxist middle class. And this middle class is exactly the group that was the strongest group within the Nazi fellowship.

The monarchist conservatives were even totally absorbed by the Nazis; when Hitler came to power in 1933, the monarchist party DNVP was even the Nazis' junior coalition partner, and both parties had been engaging in street fights united together for a few years.

I think the monarchists noticed they'd lose out of their privilege, power and income.
Thus for them, lobbying with the Nazi's made the most sense.
An act of self preservation.

The biggest downside of that now, is that Germanic cultural symbols (previously used by the monarchs/nobles) are often associated with Nazism.
Example, the Wolfsangel.
 

Van Basten

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Yes. I find this very obvious in case of American religious conservatives and libertarian "conservatives". It's hard to understand how Christians with their emphasis on mercy and a -- uniquely religious -- idea of social fairness can find common ground with hardcore libertarians who think the market will solve all material problems and are liberal on social issues.

There's Jesus and then there's American Jesus.
 

Harry Guerrilla

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Yes. I find this very obvious in case of American religious conservatives and libertarian "conservatives". It's hard to understand how Christians with their emphasis on mercy and a -- uniquely religious -- idea of social fairness can find common ground with hardcore libertarians who think the market will solve all material problems and are liberal on social issues.

In Germany (and some other European countries), Christian conservatism even resulted in the unique political philosophy of Christian Democracy, which was almost socialist on economic questions at time because of Christian views (even Germany's CDU still demanded "Christian Socialism" in 1945/46), but Christian-conservative on social issues.

Even when different types of "conservatives" may share certain ideas, their ideas of a good model to conserve may be very different, even conflicting.

Well, it depends lol.
Who do you want to lobby with?
For libertarianism.

On one hand, you have people who're socially liberal, generally speaking.
Now with that said, with social liberalism, you may or may not get greater economic freedom (often not).

With market freedom, you may or may not get greater social freedoms (sometimes yes, sometimes no).
It's slightly less worse, to lobby with conservatives.

As far as religious conservatism goes, a lot of that is the South, which is more complex than simple religiousness.
The history of the South (not the slavery aspect) and it's cultural practices is more inline with conservatism, although not wholly so.
 

Lovebug

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There's Jesus and then there's American Jesus.

We just tend to politicize everything, even faith. Perhaps it is because of our 2 party system, which causes this back and forth power struggle. We don't have much to fall back on but wanting one side or the other to have all the answers.
If we were a bit more true to christian values, aside from politics and making a show of being a Christian rather than acting like it, no person in America would need for anything. Where this "as long as I have mine" mentality stems from I don't know.
 

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Nice essay.
As for the terms, they go through mutations of meaning, I think. The Founders were progressive revolutionaries, which is almost the opposite of what would normally be understood to be conservative.

On the contrary, they were quite explicit that they were defending their rights as Englishmen, and they recognized the importance of, kept, and protected the political institutions that they had. The Founders started arguing that they should be allowed to return to their previous form of self-governance; it was only when the Crown refused that they rebelled.
 

Harry Guerrilla

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Just to add and it will likely be hard to find a German equivalent, but Southern conservatism is nearly 90% cultural.
The people of the South were largely poor English and borderland Scots/Irish.

Those border lands were often under conflict via various kingdoms, Scotland and England, of course you had the Netherlands intervention in Ulster as well.
In areas like this, you're going to have clan community loyalty because of lawlessness and constant conflict.
Not to mention that these were some of the last areas (at least Scotland and Ireland) that developed official states, rather than tribalism.

When these people migrated to the US, these cultural norms stayed, because for one it was undeveloped and stayed that way.
Secondly, it was the most successful strategy to keep social order.
Independence with clan communities is still alive today, which fits rather well with conservative dogma.
 

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America is politically lazy...well we're lazy in most aspects of everything. Not many people even read political philosophy, so mostly we use terms but don't necessarily understand the basics or history of the term. For the most part, in America conservative=Republican and liberal=Democrat.

Each side runs their mouths about how they want X,Y, and Z, but in the end the politicians of each side work towards the same goal of enlarging government power, influence, and meddling both in the lives of its citizens and in the lives of the global community.
 

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German Guy said:
What do you think? What makes "conservative" philosophy in America?

In the US, conservatism is not a philosophy, but a world-view. If you want to understand US conservatives, you can't do so by trying to cobble together a coherent over-arching political philosophy; if you do that you will quickly find yourself confused by the seemingly endless list of contradictions.

If you want to understand US conservatives, you need to understand their world-view. You need to listen to the narratives they tell each other. You need to understand the way they look at: history, the world, their country, and their place in it. You need to read and listen to the stories they tell themselves and tell each other and understand what those stories say about the way they view the world. What does the recently released "God's Not Dead 2" tell us about the way the evangelical Christian wing of the conservative movement sees the world? What do films like "American Sniper" or "Lone Survivor" tell us about how the pro-military wing of conservatism views the world? What about the news media they consume? What view of the world does Fox News push? What about talk radio?

To understand US conservatives, you need to understand their narratives. Once you do this, the reason they support policy X or Y is far more obvious. To cite one example, let's take the case of mandatory drug testing as a condition to receiving government services. Suppose we didn't know anything about US conservatives other than their stated political ideology and philosophy of governance. Given only that information, most intelligent people would probably assume that conservatives oppose this law because personal freedoms are so important to them and the idea of the government placing onerous requirements on individuals is anathema to their political philosophy. Yet that is a policy supported by conservatives. On the other hand, if instead of looking at their political philosophy, we looked at their world-view by understanding the stories that conservatives tell themselves about: race, class, poverty, opportunity, social mobility, and personal responsibility, we would immediately understand why they support this law. Ultimately, it is those narratives; the stories people tell themselves and each other; what we could term world-view or culture, that really defines a conservative.

A conservative in the US, then, is not someone who adheres to a certain political philosophy. It is someone who sees the world a certain way. Thus, I think your question is unanswerable. There isn't a coherent conservative philosophy in the USA. There is, instead, a way of viewing and understanding the world which is referred to as conservative.
 
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In the US, conservatism is not a philosophy, but a world-view. If you want to understand US conservatives, you can't do so by trying to cobble together a coherent over-arching political philosophy; if you do that you will quickly find yourself confused by the seemingly endless list of contradictions.

If you want to understand US conservatives, you need to understand their world-view. You need to listen to the narratives they tell each other. You need to understand the way they look at: history, the world, their country, and their place in it. You need to read and listen to the stories they tell themselves and tell each other and understand what those stories say about the way they view the world. What does the recently released "God's Not Dead 2" tell us about the way the evangelical Christian wing of the conservative movement sees the world? What do films like "American Sniper" or "Lone Survivor" tell us about how the pro-military wing of conservatism views the world? What about the news media they consume? What view of the world does Fox News push? What about talk radio?

To understand US conservatives, you need to understand their narratives. Once you do this, the reason they support policy X or Y is far more obvious. To cite one example, let's take the case of mandatory drug testing as a condition to receiving government services. Suppose we didn't know anything about US conservatives other than their stated political ideology and philosophy of governance. Given only that information, most intelligent people would probably assume that conservatives oppose this law because personal freedoms are so important to them and the idea of the government placing onerous requirements on individuals is anathema to their political philosophy. Yet that is a policy supported by conservatives. On the other hand, if instead of looking at their political philosophy, we looked at their world-view by understanding the stories that conservatives tell themselves about: race, class, poverty, opportunity, social mobility, and personal responsibility, we would immediately understand why they support this law. Ultimately, it is those narratives; the stories people tell themselves and each other; what we could term world-view or culture, that really defines a conservative.

A conservative in the US, then, is not someone who adheres to a certain political philosophy. It is someone who sees the world a certain way.

I know I'm not really answering the question because the obvious follow-up is: "Great...so what is that world-view?". That's a great question! I'm not ready to propose an answer right now, although it may be worth exploring if others are interested. I'm not sure one could give a thorough enough answer to cover every angle easily.

But then again, there are many conservatives who could give a rats ass about religion, and they are growing in numbers.
 

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But then again, there are many conservatives who could give a rats ass about religion, and they are growing in numbers.

I didn't mention religion.

Well, other than listing them along with "the pro-military wing" as a wing of the conservative faction when I listed examples of media that help us understand conservatives.
 

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We just tend to politicize everything, even faith. Perhaps it is because of our 2 party system, which causes this back and forth power struggle. We don't have much to fall back on but wanting one side or the other to have all the answers.
If we were a bit more true to christian values, aside from politics and making a show of being a Christian rather than acting like it, no person in America would need for anything. Where this "as long as I have mine" mentality stems from I don't know.

That's actually a problem, then we tend to roll everything that we've politicized together under a single label and pretend that it all belongs there. Conservative and liberal, those are political labels. They have nothing to do with religion, but through decades of lumping everything together, especially in the GOP, conservative has come to be seen as a religious position and it just isn't. Conservative values have nothing inherently to do with religion.
 

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In the US, conservatism is not a philosophy, but a world-view. If you want to understand US conservatives, you can't do so by trying to cobble together a coherent over-arching political philosophy; if you do that you will quickly find yourself confused by the seemingly endless list of contradictions.

If you want to understand US conservatives, you need to understand their world-view. You need to listen to the narratives they tell each other. You need to understand the way they look at: history, the world, their country, and their place in it. You need to read and listen to the stories they tell themselves and tell each other and understand what those stories say about the way they view the world. What does the recently released "God's Not Dead 2" tell us about the way the evangelical Christian wing of the conservative movement sees the world? What do films like "American Sniper" or "Lone Survivor" tell us about how the pro-military wing of conservatism views the world? What about the news media they consume? What view of the world does Fox News push? What about talk radio?

To understand US conservatives, you need to understand their narratives. Once you do this, the reason they support policy X or Y is far more obvious. To cite one example, let's take the case of mandatory drug testing as a condition to receiving government services. Suppose we didn't know anything about US conservatives other than their stated political ideology and philosophy of governance. Given only that information, most intelligent people would probably assume that conservatives oppose this law because personal freedoms are so important to them and the idea of the government placing onerous requirements on individuals is anathema to their political philosophy. Yet that is a policy supported by conservatives. On the other hand, if instead of looking at their political philosophy, we looked at their world-view by understanding the stories that conservatives tell themselves about: race, class, poverty, opportunity, social mobility, and personal responsibility, we would immediately understand why they support this law. Ultimately, it is those narratives; the stories people tell themselves and each other; what we could term world-view or culture, that really defines a conservative.

A conservative in the US, then, is not someone who adheres to a certain political philosophy. It is someone who sees the world a certain way. Thus, I think your question is unanswerable. There isn't a coherent conservative philosophy in the USA. There is, instead, a way of viewing and understanding the world which is referred to as conservative.

So you're saying being conservative in America is, in many cases, a "tribal" thing rather than a political ideology?

What are the most important narratives, i.e.?
 

Moot

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On the contrary, they were quite explicit that they were defending their rights as Englishmen, and they recognized the importance of, kept, and protected the political institutions that they had. The Founders started arguing that they should be allowed to return to their previous form of self-governance; it was only when the Crown refused that they rebelled.

That's pretty much what I think, too. I would add that while other countries are based on a shared history, religion, language, ethnic or cultural heritage..Americans have made rights the foundation of their national identity. The purpose of the government is to "secure our rights." When the pilgrims were coming over on the Mayflower they made a list rights before they even set foot on American soil. Americans have always been about rights.

Yes, I too think the founders wanted to keep a form of self governance...but with that also came certain "duties" to the community. But over time, it seems that 'individual rights' became more important than duty to the community.
 

CrabCake

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So you're saying being conservative in America is, in many cases, a "tribal" thing rather than a political ideology?

What are the most important narratives, i.e.?

Precisely. This is why it's so easy to separate the US into "red states" and "blue states".

I don't think I have the time to delve into all of the major narratives. I'm sure someone has written a whole book on this topic by now, and it seems that it would take a full book to accurately describe all of them. But I'll list one that goes with the example I mentioned previously in regards to the issue of drug testing recipients of government assistance.

One of the prevailing conservative narratives about poverty is that poverty is the result of laziness and an entitlement mentality. People who are poor and rely on government assistance are poor because they are unwilling to get a job in order to lift themselves out of poverty. Such people are lazy and are very likely to be drug users. They are "moochers" who feel entitled to receive free stuff from the government and would rather be given free stuff than have to work for it. Poverty is thus a choice; it's the result of complacency, lack of motivation, and an entitlement mentality.

You can see examples of that narrative being pushed by the conservative machine here:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bP_izYhdehY
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jeU1vWCRyVA
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RRPfRkR-TOI

Given such a narrative, you can see how a law forcing that class of people to take drug tests if they want to receive government assistance makes sense to a conservative.
 
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